Tag Archives: the Orient Expres

On the Trail of the Orient Express: Day 6

I have never motored over the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps. After driving up the Transf?g?r??an Road in Romania on Day 6 of our journey along the Orient Express, I’m not sure that I need to. You see, the Transf?g?r??an climbs to the highest altitude in all of Romania — 6099 feet, to be exact — right near the shoulder of 8346-foot Moldoveanu Peak, which happens to be the tallest mountain in the country, and the turquoise-hued Bâlea Lake. Better yet, the 57-mile Transf?g?r??an treats drivers to innumerable esses and hairpins, over two dozen bridges and viaducts, and, at half a mile, the longest tunnel in Romania (the Capra-Bâlea). Scenery? Only if you count alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, rock-strewn rivers, and some of the most daunting summits in the world. MacKenzie comes over the radio: “If they closed down this road, it would make for an amazing World Rally stage.” Indeed.

Open from July to October — although weather in the Carpathian Mountains can sometimes alter the open season — the twisty Transf?g?r??an usually dictates a pace of around 25 mph. But on our travel day, the traffic is relatively light and the weather is positively gorgeous, so we’re able to push our two Hyundais at a brisker clip. Much of the road, which was built under the rule of Communist leader Nicolae Ceau?escu in the early 1970s as a military route, is rough and bumpy, and the firm springs suspending our Genesis sedans are creating a ride that seems somewhat unsettled.

My car is suffering from a lot of vertical motion, making me long for a quick ride that can better absorb bumps at speed — a Subaru STI would do nicely, thank you. That said, the Genesis is just a few chassis tweaks from being a stellar driver’s car.

Our impetus for taking the Transf?g?r??an was simple: it connects the city of Sibiu, our overnight stay the day prior, and the village of Arefu, which happens to be where a certain Count used to reside. Yep, I’m referring to none other than Dracula himself, or as the locals know him, Vlad ?epe?. In Romanian, ?epe? means “The Impaler,” a name Vlad received from the way he used to punish those who upset him. King during parts of the 15th century, Vlad was the son of Vlad Dracul, whose surname translates to dragon or devil. Thus, ?epe?’s last name was Draculea — son of Dracul or, as most know him, Dracula.

Bram Stoker, who wrote the 1897 book Dracula, based his antagonist — very loosely, of course — on ?epe?. The novel’s protagonist, Jonathan Harker, traveled the Orient Express so he could meet with Count Dracula in Transylvania. While Stoker’s legendary Dracula lived in the Bran Castle, located near Brasov some 50 miles east of Arefu, the real McCoy called Poienari Fortress home.

After driving over the 545-foot-tall Vidraru Dam on the Transf?g?r??an, we descend into Arefu and park at the base of the mountain that cradles Poienari. About 1500 steps separate us from the fortress, although after taking each and every one of them, we swear it’s more like 15,000. The fortress, which was first erected in the early 13th century and now lay in ruin after about 800 years, is still an impressive sight to see, if only for the 360-degree view it provides. With a panorama like this, it’s easy to see how one can feel like a king.

On the winding road leading out of Arefu, we’re moving along at what seems like a brisk 60 mph when I hear a honk behind me. I peer at my rearview and am most surprised to see a red 12-wheel Iveco semi about a foot off my back bumper. “Yikes,” I say to Vance as I inch the Genesis over on the narrow two-lane. The Iveco passes me and in another ten seconds gobbles MacKenzie’s Hyundai. A snug S-turn lies ahead, and the Iveco pilot seemingly drifts his way through it. “Maybe we should ask this guy to be our new test driver,” I say to Vance. If only we could catch him. MacKenzie comes over the radio: “I think that’s the only time I’ve been passed by a huge truck on a mountain road.” That makes two of us.

We eventually reach the A1 motorway, which will lead us into Bucharest, and are soon cruising at a speed of 80 mph. After the relatively slow going on the Transf?g?r??an, 80 feels more like 120. Just three days ago, when we were blasting down the A92 autobahn at 150 mph, 80 would have felt like 18.

As we pull into Bucharest, we see some of the lasting remnants of the Communist era — the cold avenues of plain, high-rise flats and Ceau?escu’s 1100-room, 12-story former palace, which is now Romania’s parliament building — and are delighted to arrive at the Carol Parc, the only five-star boutique hotel in Bucharest. According to the manager, Beyoncé and Enrique Iglesias are just two of the famous patrons who have stayed in the posh 17-room building. They, no doubt, were impressed with the premise’s Murano crystal chandelier, which, at a height of about 40 feet and a weight of roughly 5000 pounds (one Genesis 4.6 weighs roughly 4000 pounds), it is the largest fixture of its kind in the world. We’ll be sad to leave these lovely grounds, but Istanbul and a drive through Bulgaria are calling. Our two-car Orient Express is ready for departure …

-Photos by Brian Vance

ORIENT EXPRESS SERIES: Day 1: Paris to Strasbourg — Day 2: Strasbourg to Munich — Day 3: Munich to Vienna —  Day 4: Vienna to Szeged, Hungary — Day 5: Szeged to Sibiu, Romania

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6536512/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-6/index.html

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On the Trail of the Orient Express – Day 5

We’re heading into Transylvania today. The skies should be leaden, with lightning strobing in the wet gloom and thunder grumbling like a distant artillery barrage. Instead we’re travelling in bright sunshine and a soft summer breeze. No Hollywood cliches here.

We know today is going to be a slow day — the four lane highway finished just outside Szeged, and according to the map, the next time we’ll see one is somewhere near Bucharest — but we are a little surprised when the Garmin directs us down a string of back roads to an ancient car ferry over the Tisza River. We are even more surprised to have to wait 20 minutes to board the thing, even though it is pulled up on our side of the river. Seems the ferry departs every half hour — even though the river is only a couple of hundred yards wide and takes about 10 minutes to cross.

The road the other side is a challenge. It is tarmac, but its foundations are so poor it has collapsed into a series of humps and hollows that would challenge the suspension on a Baja racer. We have both Hyundais darting and weaving all over the road as we try to keep the wheels on the high ground, and the oil pans away from the hungry road surface. We struggle to average much more than 40 mph on the run to join Route 68, the road that will take us east into Romania, and Transylvania — its most famous region.

Romania is probably best known to most Americans for its Olympic gymnasts, while Transylvania has become a pop culture icon through countless retellings of Irish writer Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 novel, Dracula, in which the Count himself travels on the Orient Express. The real Romania is somewhat more complicated than that.

It’s been almost 20 years since the Romanians deposed Nicolae Ceausescu, but the brutal Communist dictator’s legacy is still all too visible. Romania today has ATMs and gas stations and shiny new car dealerships. But it also has tumbledown villages with dirt streets, hordes of battered old Dacia 1300s (basically badly-built 1970s Renault 12s), and a landscape dotted with ugly, rusting Soviet-era infrastructure.

Just outside the town of Arad, a beggar pushes a wheelchair into the middle of moving traffic at a rail crossing near a decaying power station, pulling up the pant legs of the poor unfortunate in the chair to show his amputated limbs. Rich and prosperous Europe suddenly seems a million miles away…

Leaving out the time spent on photography, crossing the border, gassing cars, and lunch, it has taken us about eight hours to cover less than 250 miles today. The E68, one of the main roads into the country from the west, is virtually a two lane highway all the way. If you’re not stuck behind a semi, you’re cruising at 30 mph through one of the countless towns and villages along the way, and you have to crawl over every rail crossing or leave your front suspension behind. You might think it’s best to simply chill, and go with the flow. But the Romanians have other ideas.

With traffic banked up behind a truck, impatient drivers simply pull out and pass long lines of cars, relying on someone letting them back onto the right side of the road before they eat an oncoming semi. It mostly seems to work, though we saw a couple of close shaves, most notably a guy in a white BMW who decided to ignore the double lines and pass on a blind crest just as a truck appeared coming the other way. When it doesn’t work, it gets messy. We saw three wrecks — one car upside down by the side of the road, another teetering crazily down an embankment, and a third facing the wrong way with its front end pushed in.

We quickly learned to take a leaf out of the locals’ book — well, a little part of it, anyway. Being the nice guys meant we kept getting shuffled back in the line behind the trucks, so when we were certain the road ahead was clear, we made good use of the Tau V-8’s 375 hp, overtaking small groups of cars en masse so we could position ourselves to pass the lumbering semi at the head of the line. I felt sorry for those Romanians driving the Communist-era Dacias which simply don’t have the power to pass a modern truck; they had no alternative but to sit there sniffing diesel fumes. Forever.

We’re overnighting in Sibiu, one of the major towns in Transylvania. Tomorrow, we’re taking the long way to Bucharest, via the Transfagarasan Road, a Ceausescu folly through the brooding Fagaras Mountains that may just be one of the best driver’s roads in Europe. And along the way we plan to check out at the one-time hangout of the real Dracula. Yes, he existed, and yes, he was a bloodthirsty character. But not in the way you’re thinking.

-Photos by Brian Vance

ORIENT EXPRESS SERIES: Day 1: Paris to Strasbourg — Day 2: Strasbourg to Munich — Day 3: Munich to Vienna —  Day 4: Vienna to Szeged, Hungary

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6567542/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-5/index.html

On the Trail of the Orient Express: Day 1

Daybreak, and we’re parked outside the Gare de l’Est, one of six major railway stations that serve Paris. Nothing particularly unusual about that, perhaps, except for the cars we’re driving — a pair of California registered Hyundai Genesis sedans, both loaded 4.6-liter V-8s. We’re a long way from Orange County, Toto. And we’re about to go further.

The Gare de l’Est is where the famed Orient Express began its journey. We’ve all heard of the Orient Express — it was featured in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, and was the setting for Agatha Christie’s 1934 thriller Murder on the Orient Express. James Bond rode it in From Russia With Love. It has become a pop culture icon.

The original Orient Express, inaugurated in October 1883, ran from Paris via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, and then into Romania and Bulgaria before finishing in Istanbul, the ancient Turkish city where Europe literally meets Asia. Look at the route on a map and it screams road trip. Which is why we’re parked at the Gare de l’Est as sleepy-eyed Parisians hustle through the terminal on their way to work: We’re planning to drive our two Hyundais more than 2000 miles east to Istanbul.

Our Genesis sedans — one silver, one blue — are drawing curious looks from the Parisians in the early morning traffic. The driver of a Stuttgart registered Porsche Panamera Turbo– a journalist, presumably, as I recognize the car as being one of those used for the press launch in Bavaria a few weeks back — leans out to stare at the cars as he cruises past us near the Arc de Triomphe.

The Genesis is not sold in Europe, and while Hyundai may be a latecomer to the luxury segment, it’s obvious the big, well finished, well proportioned sedan is sending all the right signals to an audience otherwise unfamiliar with the Korean automaker’s upmarket aspirations in the United States: The reactions are overwhelmingly positive.

Our early morning photoshoot over, we work our way through the city to the A4 autoroute, heading into the sun as the commuter traffic jams the inbound lanes. This is the same route we took out of Paris almost exactly a year ago in the Dodge Challenger SRT8 — we top up both Hyundais at the same gas station a few miles down the road. But this time, where not heading for Reims and its famous old grand prix track. Instead, we’re turning off the autoroute where it crosses the Marne River and heading into the heart of champagne country.

Our destination is the town of Epernay, and the headquarters of Moet & Chandon. Moet has been making champagne since 1743, and sent its first shipment of wine to the United States in 1787. Moet occupies pole position on Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne, where hundreds of thousands of bottles of liquid gold age quietly in the cool darkness of nearly 18 miles of tunnels carved into the soft chalk rock underneath.

We’re met by the charming Veronique, who takes on a tour of the historic site. We walk in the tunnel where Napoleon drank champagne with Jean-Remy Moet, grandson of company founder Claude, and under the tree where in March, 1814, the Duke of Wellington shared a glass of Moet champagne with Emperor Francis II of Austria, the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia, and the future king of Holland. It’s that sort of place.

We taste Moet’s most recent vintage champagne — the 2003 — in both white and rose over lunch at the Residence de Trianon, built as a private home for Jean-Remy Moet’s children Adelaide and Victor in 1833, and used as a residence by the family until 1958. It’s like angels dancing on your tongue. But it’s sadly only a taste, as we have a couple of hundred miles to cover before reaching our hotel in Strasbourg, and duty calls. As we’re about to depart, Veronique appears with a magnum of Moet’s Imperiale champagne. “It’s for you to celebrate your arrival in Istanbul,” she says. Bless her.

The Genesis whispers along the autoroute to Strasbourg at 80 mph, the 4.6-liter V-8 turning barely 2200 rpm and returning 25 mpg, according to the readout on the dash. It’s a comfortable and relaxed cruiser, its laid-back demeanor marred only by the slight busyness of the stiffly sprung rear end. It’s a minor niggle in a car that is otherwise astonishingly accomplished.

A few short years ago the idea of retracing one of the world’s great luxury journeys in a Korean car would have seemed laughable. But on Day 1 of our Orient Express roadtrip the smooth, silent, and refined Genesis sedan has felt pretty much at home in the heartland of olde worlde luxury.

-Photos by Brian Vance

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6561705/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-1/index.html

On the Trail of the Orient Express: Day 2

I awoke in Strasbourg to the pitter-patter of rain on my hotel room’s thick-glassed windows. Day 1’s weather in Paris had been warm and humid, so the thought of precipitation had me hoping the clime outside would be cooler. But I wondered: would this welcome pitter-patter soon become unwelcome, following our crew as we journeyed some 300 miles east to Munich, our second stop on the Orient Express tour? While not especially long for a day’s drive — the trip would include a run through the lush mountains of the Black Forest and a visit to the Zeppelin Museum on the shores of Lake Bodensee, just a 40-minute ferry ride away from Switzerland — it was far enough to where the thought of looking out the windshield past sweeping wipers for six hours had me a bit worried.

But as it turned out, the wipers got only a frantic four-hour workout, tiring our eyes and fatiguing our bodies but not our minds — ah, they would be alive and well upon our arrival in Bavaria’s hip and historic capital, relishing Deutschland’s great twisty roads and high-speed autobahns, and the amazing stories behind such transatlantic behemoths as the Hindenburg.

Twenty or so minutes after leaving Strasbourg, we entered Germany and quickly jumped on the A5 autobahn, which would take us south to Freiburg, where we’d bust east and then head into the Black Forest. I had never been to this famous, heavily wooded area, so I was looking forward to experiencing what I had been hearing for years — a serpentine drive through the twisty mountain blacktop was as majestic and alluring as the breathtaking scenery. MacKenzie seemed equally eager to get there, pushing his silver Genesis 4.6 up to an effortless triple-digit cruising speed. I promptly stomped on the throttle of my blue 375-horse Hyundai, and tucked in behind him.

As we entered the Black Forest, a natural park spanning nearly 927,000 acres between the Rhine and Necklar rivers, I was instantly reminded of the landscape in the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington. Like the mountains and national parks of America’s Pacific Northwest, this area of Germany featured everything from daunting rock formations and deep canyons to alpine lakes and rushing rivers. And, lest I forget, some great driving roads, too.

I had yet to pilot a Genesis up and over a mountain pass, much less one in Europe, so I was pleasantly surprised at the results. While not as sporty as, say, a BMW 550i, the Genesis nonetheless proved a happy hauler along 60 to 80 mph sweepers that meandered their way through the verdant hillsides. Grip and balance were commendable. Steering was light and linear. And the power and smoothness of the Tau V-8 were impressive. The only sections in which the big Hyundai seemed somewhat unhappy were those of the tight, hairpin variety, where its size and softer turn-in translated to moderate understeer. This Korean is a luxury sedan you want to aggressively nudge rather than flat-out push.

With the Black Forest in our rearview mirrors, we headed southeast along the northern shores of Lake Bodensee, destination the Zeppelin Museum. Opened in 1996, this 43,000 square-foot Bauhaus style building — formerly the Hafenbahnhof railway station — houses artifacts, photos, and displays encompassing the giant airships of the 1930s. Most notable, the museum features a 108-foot reconstruction of a section of the infamous LZ 129 Hindenburg, the Zeppelin that went up in flames in Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1937. Not only does this replication give an idea of what it was like to “silently float” across the Atlantic, enjoying the pleasant lounge and smoking room and the surprisingly plush sleeping quarters, but it also sheds light on the unparalleled engineering and technology of the time. For instance, the structure of the Hindenburg was built from lightweight aluminum (even the lounge’s grand piano was made from the feathery metal), the diesel engines came from esteemed automaker Maybach, and the gearboxes were sourced from ZF, which, ironically enough, sources the Genesis’s six-speed. The Hindenburg’s construction and supplier list almost reads like that of one of today’s top German automobiles.

A few crazy and cool factoids about the Hindenburg: 1) At 245 meters long (268 yards or the combined length of about three American football fields), it is the longest aircraft to ever make a transatlantic flight. 2) To minimize weight, artists painted their work directly on the Hindenburg’s interior canvas walls, thus eliminating the need for frames, nails, and wires. 3) Watchmen manned the four engine gondolas, working in four-hour shifts due to noise and heat. Better yet, they had to scale down a ladder outside the aircraft to enter and exit the gondola.

With our Zeppelin fix satisfied, we hopped back in the Hyundais and aimed for Munich, a relatively short 120-mile jaunt. I say relatively short because on the A96 autobahn, where the two Genesis sedans could occasionally clip along at a rate of 130 mph, it took us just a couple hours to make the trip. Granted, it wasn’t an exactly relaxing two hours, as inclement weather and a traffic jam taxed our focus and patience, but the Genesis proved it wasn’t a fish out of water, easily swimming along the wet tarmac with aplomb. In fact, MacKenzie had no problem hanging with a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, whose driver was most likely wondering, “What the hell is that thing?”

It’s a Hyundai retracing the trail of the Orient Express, of course.

-Photos by Brian Vance

ORIENT EXPRESS SERIES: Day 1 – Paris to Strasbourg

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6562116/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-2/index.html

On the Trail of the Orient Express: Day 3

Hammer time! We’re on the A92 autobahn that runs from Munich to Deggendorf, a small town that’s of no particular importance except for the fact it’s at the end of one of the quieter and less speed limited superhighways in southern Germany. We’re here to see whether the Genesis can run with all those fancy Bimmers and Audis that are built within a few miles of this road.

The Genesis might have been designed and engineered in Korea, but the 4.6-liter Tau V-8 feels eerily German in its power delivery. It’s smooth and linear till about 3000 rpm, then you get a noticeable surge as the engine gets a second wind; old Benz V-8s used to feel just like this. At 3000 rpm in top, the Genesis is cruising at 110 mph, and could do it all day long. Wind and road noise are impressively hushed, and the car feels surprisingly relaxed.

It doesn’t take too much of a gap in the traffic for the Genesis to surge to 130, then 140 mph. We saw an indicated 150 mph a couple of times.

At these speeds, however, the Genesis’ demeanor gets a nervy edge. It feels like it’s balanced on the balls of its feet, moving around on the road in a way German cars never do. You need to be extra delicate with your steering inputs above 120 mph, and careful with your braking, especially if you’re ambushed by a slow moving car midway through a fast sweeper. And speaking of brakes, the standard Hyundai stoppers are marginal when you start hustling the Genesis hard. A set of Brembos would be nice, please.

V-maxing the Genesis on the A92, you can feel the Korean development engineers didn’t have a road like this in their backyard, unlike their counterparts at Audi and BMW. Engineers from both companies test prototype cars on the A92 all the time, especially at night, when the lack of traffic means they can maintain high speeds for an extended period. They test during the day, too — we saw two camo’d next-gen BMW 5 Series sedans inside of 30 minutes this morning.

Of course no one in the U.S. — or the rest of the world, for that matter — is ever going to drive a Genesis at these speeds. But many of the defining characteristics of German luxury cars — excellent stability, good steering, resilient brakes, smooth engines — come from their being developed in a country where it is possible to legally drive 150 mph or more. The Genesis is an impressive debut luxury car from Hyundai, but to truly take the fight to BMW and Audi with the next generation model, Hyundai engineers are going to have to start spending a lot more time on roads like the A92.

Just before Deggendorf we turn right and head southeast on the A3 autobahn towards the Austrian border, en route for Vienna, one of the major stops on the Orient Express route. With heavy traffic the pace is much more relaxed, and when we cross into Austria a blanket 80 mph limit — and heavy policing — make dialing up the cruise control a smart choice.

What a difference the change of pace makes. During our full throttle charge up the A92 the 4.6-liter Tau guzzled a gallon of Super Bleifrei every 13 miles. Holding a steady 80 mph on cruise control — with occasional stints at 60 mph for up to 10 miles through roadworks — the Genesis is getting an impressive 26-27 mpg.

Vienna is a stately city, full of baroque buildings and wide boulevards. The Austrian capital, situated at the crossroads of Europe since Roman times, has been the home of princes and the heart of empire; a major player in the political and cultural development of modern Europe. So we decide to go to an amusement park.

The Prater is built on a small island in the Danube, and has been a public park since 1766. In one corner of the park is an area called the Wurstelprater, and, yes, it’s an amusement park with the usual assemblage of thrill rides, flashing lights, fast food, and ear-splitting trashy pop music. It also boasts uniquely Viennese baroque-style buildings and an old-school amusement park ambience that would cost Disney hundreds of millions of dollars to replicate. Plus, there were a couple of rides that had MT’s hard-core Six Flags veterans shaking their heads: “No way!”

But our real reason for visiting the Wurstelprater was to see the Riesenrad, the giant ferris wheel that played a supporting role in one of our all-time favorite movies, The Third Man. Based on a screenplay by Graham Greene, and starring Orson Welles, The Third Man is an atmospheric thriller than was shot on location in Vienna exactly 60 years ago. Welles plays a black marketer who fakes his own death, only to have the ruse uncovered by an old friend.

In one of the movie’s key scenes, the two meet at the Wurstelprater, which was then in the Russian sector of Vienna — like Berlin, the city was divided among the victorious Allied Powers after the end of World War II. In the shadow of the Riesenrad Welles delivers the movie’s most famous lines, summing up the weary cynicism of a ruined Europe on the eve of the Cold War: “You know what the fellow said: In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

After shooting some photos and video, we head back to the Genesis, and start packing the camera gear back in the truck. A nearby group of Austrians watches us curiously. One of them spots the license plate. “California!” he shouts. “Arnold Schwarzenegger!”  They all laugh. I don’t think they were being cynical.

-Photos by Brian Vance

ORIENT EXPRESS SERIES: Day 1 – Paris to Strasbourg — Day 2 – Strasbourg to Munich

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6535501/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-3/index.html

On the Trail of the Orient Express: Day 4

As this blog goes live on MotorTrend.com, the 2009 Tour de France will have just concluded the day prior in Paris. Only three days ago we began our Orient Express adventure in the City of Lights. Now that we’re about 1100 miles away in Szeged, Hungary, though, having logged visits to Epernay (Moet & Chandon), Strasbourg, Friedrichshafen (the Zeppelin Museum), Munich, Vienna (the Prater Ferris Wheel), and Budapest, it feels more like three weeks have passed.

The clock is nearing midnight and I’m typing away while catching out of the corner of my eye a replay of today’s (Saturday, July 25) 104-mile Stage 20 of the Tour on the Eurosport channel. Eyelids heavy, I realize my weariness is nothing compared to what Contador, Armstrong, and the other überelite cyclists are feeling after enduring the nasty 13-mile ascent up Mont Ventoux. Just watching them makes me more tired.

I turn the channel so as not to face-plant into my computer, and am quickly invigorated with coverage of the day’s F1 qualifying at the Hungaroring, only a couple hours away from Szeged. We had thought about trying to catch it in person, but deemed it too time consuming given our itinerary. The way these guys dance around a racetrack at mach speed never ceases to amaze me.

A few minutes pass and I see that Ferrari ace Felipe Massa has gone straight off the track and into a tire barrier. What the heck happened? I turn away from the computer and give my undivided attention to the television. The replay shows a piece of suspension from Barrichello’s Brawn whacking him in the helmet as he was motoring along at about 160 mph. A medic is quickly on the scene. Massa, still in the cockpit, isn’t moving. Jeez, this is bad. Back on the computer, I search for an update and learn that Massa has undergone emergency surgery for a fractured skull and is in intensive care at a military hospital. I knew to expect the unexpected on a road trip from Paris to Istanbul, but not this. Thankfully, the report says he’s in stable condition.

Returning to the task at hand, I began running through the events of the day, thinking about a long 14 hours earlier …

Leaving the lovely confines of the Grand Hotel in Vienna, which first opened its doors in 1870, we nestle into the posh cabins of the Genesis sedans and head for Budapest. Barring any delays, we should make it there in time for lunch. Right before crossing the Austria-Hungary border, we stop to fill-up at a Shell fuel station. It seems everyone else heading into Hungary has the same idea, as each of the 14 pumps is queued up with at least 10 cars. We may be a bit late for lunch. I notice some people donning Ferrari gear; no doubt, they’re on their way to the Hungaroring.

Luckily, the line moves relatively fast, and we’re back on the M1 highway, rolling along at 90 mph. We pass signs for the Audi factory in Györ, where the TT is built, and in what seems like minutes not hours, Budapest is in our sights. Making our way to the Castle District, we go over the River Danube and into the Buda side of Budapest, before driving through a monumental tunnel on Clark Ádám tér. We stay just long enough in the Castle District to check out the grandiose Mátyás Church — according to my guide book, was built sometime around 1255 — and grab some tasty vittles (three of us enjoyed delectable Herb Risotto with Farm Chicken) at the Pierrot Café, which, again per my GB, was the sole private café during Communist times.

Returning to the cars, a young man inquires about snapping a few photos of the Genesis. “This is a very nice, expensive car,” he says. Even though most Europeans seem unaware that the Genesis is a Hyundai, they all seem to think it’s a high-class luxury car. One valet even told our senior photographer Brian Vance it was a ringer for a BMW.

Although we’d love to visit Budapest for one week rather than one hour, duty calls, so we get back on the road and point our noses for Szeged, where we’ll bunk for the night. With a population of around 167,000, Szeged is the fourth-largest city in Hungary and holds the distinction of being the home of paprika. It is also the birthplace of engineer János Csonka, co-inventor of the carburetor. Driving through this town, it appears much of its money has come and gone — it is fairly dilapidated but surprisingly clean, and seems too dead for a Saturday night.

We stop in at the Restaurant Matuzsálem for dinner, and Vance orders up pork rolls stuffed with cheese, bacon, and mustard, all covered in breadcrumbs, and then deep-fried to a golden brown. Served with french fries, naturally. The plate looks like it could be an ad for Lipitor. I try a bite. It’s pure heaven.

With Romania on the horizon, it’s back to the Novotel hotel for some shut-eye. I hit the pillow thinking about Massa and that heart attack Vance just ate. Come tomorrow, I know Brian will bounce back. I just hope Felipe does, too.

-Photos by Brian Vance

ORIENT EXPRESS SERIES: Day 1: Paris to Strasbourg — Day 2: Strasbourg to Munich — Day 3: Munich to Vienna

Source : blogs.motortrend.com/6562179/miscellaneous/on-the-trail-of-the-orient-express-day-4/index.html